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The Forecast: Fair or Foul?

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art-chicago-08-crowds-1Compiled by Jason Foumberg

I asked art fair participants and insiders to make predictions for this year’s fair. At turns grim and hopeful, the responses present a slice of Chicago’s varied interests.

Brian Sholis, Art Critic: I suspect this year’s fair will be a cake of apprehension and worry frosted with taut smiles and outward expressions of hope.

Britton Bertran, Curator and Dealer: Commodity expectations are at their lowest and artists will do whatever they can to be heard in the loudest possible way. But what might be more interesting is when galleries and other enablers (non-artists) start to rear their own heads in protest and anger without repercussions from their own enablers (those that run these fairs). But what are they protesting against?

Carl Baratta, Artist: Everything will be at least competent except the free drinks. They will be perfect.

Zoë Walker & Neil Bromwich, "Tank MK1" (2007) Courtesy Pippy Houldsworth, London

Zoë Walker & Neil Bromwich, "Tank MK1" (2007) Courtesy Pippy Houldsworth, London

Tony Hirschel, Director, Smart Museum: My hope for the fair this year is that interest and attendance remain high even if it proves difficult to maintain total sales volume due to the weaker art market.  A high level of participation will ensure that the fair will remain strong and vibrant now and in the future.

Enrique Santana, "Merchandise Mart," oil on canvas (2009) Courtesy Ann Nathan Gallery, Chicago

Enrique Santana, "Merchandise Mart," oil on canvas (2009) Courtesy Ann Nathan Gallery, Chicago

Thomas Robertello, Dealer: I predict NEXT will become NOW–the art fair formerly known as NEXT–and Art Chicago will become WAS. I think we’ll see a lot of strong work at NEXT and that sales will be much better than last year…. It seems like a really interesting line-up of galleries and I’m excited to take part in it. I wonder if the Mart will drop the art-fair business as fast as they entered and if some real estate collector/dude with a large building will organize his own rival fair next year with fifty-plus galleries…. or if NEXT (NOW) will be all that’s left and happen at a different location in Chi and at a different time of year–September?

Paul Klein, Art Consultant: I expect Art Chicago and NEXT to be satisfying to the lay person and the causal, infrequent collector. There are significant galleries who attended last year whose participation this year was questionable by the time they’d left Chicago.  With an economic downturn, attrition has increased. But the people at the Mart are savvy enough to realize they needed to make a “flanking maneuver” to salvage the quality of the fair. They’ve added programming and exhibitions that look very promising.  This year there are more reasons to attend than to just cruise the booths. Those who avail themselves should have a good experience.

Anthony Elms, Assistant Director, Gallery 400: This isn’t an exhibition, this isn’t a gift. This is a commercial venture and needs to succeed or fail on those terms. Still, there are two items to keep in mind: 1. The fair will be further evidence in opposition to some voices out there who would like to view the collapse of a runaway art market as good for either artists or content. 2. Keep in mind it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Roger Brown, "Mothra at Inner Circle Drive," oil on canvas (1988) Courtesy of Russell Bowman Art Advisory, Chicago

Roger Brown, "Mothra at Inner Circle Drive," oil on canvas (1988) Courtesy Russell Bowman Art Advisory, Chicago

Ginny Berg, Chicago Gallery News: The smaller size of Art Chicago this year will be a welcome change to fair visitors who were particularly overwhelmed in 2008. I also hope that newer collectors attend and will feel like they have a chance at entering the market because a range of affordable work will be available (assuming dealers bring that range).

Pedro Vélez, Critic and Artist: Unless the fairs manage to bound and fly the international super collectors into town, keep them off the usual suspects, explain to them in detail how we are trying to get back in the game, drive them to every single apartment gallery and offer them a free work of art for every purchase they make at the fairs…it’s going to be a waste of money for galleries. Artists, as usual, will make the most of it and do great things as they always do.

Eric May, Director, Roots & Culture: I’m not sure how little grassroots art programs can really have stake in the commercialized soulless juggernauts of the art market. With the economic state right now and the seemingly perpetual grim status of the commercial art market here, it is time for those of us at the bottom to reinvent the ways in which art is viewed and exchanged and develop alternative models of sustainability so that the cultural capital that we have to share can reach the masses.

Art Chicago and NEXT run May 1-4 on the 7th and 12th floors of The Merchandise Mart.

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